Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cultural Observations: Swimwear

One of the things we enjoy most about all the travel we do is seeing, learning and sometimes even understanding all the different cultures that make up our fabulous world. Luckily, Brian and I are very open minded and operate on an attitude of "live and let live" so there aren't many cultural differences that really bother us. We try to understand, appreciate and respect the differences we run into.

But sometimes . . .

Since we are also scuba divers and dive as often as we can, we've gotten to see the various cultural interpretations of swimwear. Let me try to give you a tour - at least from my rather conservative, midwest America viewpoint.

The thing I notice about American swimwear is that you can only wear a bikini if you have a great body. Any flaws and you need to cover them up. So, there is always a mix of one piece and bikinis among the women - and usually a cover up of some kind nearby. In fact, American women will cover up to go to the toilet, get a fresh towel, order another drink ...
For the men, it's baggy surfer shorts, period. 

The British must have a much healthier body image than us Americans because EVERYONE wears a bikini. I'm not exaggerating or embellishing, EVERYONE wears a bikini. Now, picture your typical vacation anywhere and the variety of body types, ages and degrees of fitness. EVERYONE wears a bikini. It can be a bit overwhelming.
Some of the men wear the baggy surfer shorts, but more often you'll see the dreaded speedo. I know, I'm supposed to try and understand and appreciate, but I just can't. It looks silly and uncomfortable and just shares a little too much. And, unfortunately, just like the women, wearing a speedo is not driven by age, body type or fitness level.
In a way, I admire the confidence of wearing such attire in public, but then again . . .

Other Europeans
Depending on where you are, tops are optional for the ladies  . . . yep, ALL the ladies.

In distinct contrast to the Europeans, the Arabs cover up even when at the beach. Be it an Abaya and then not getting in the water or the burkini, the goal is to stay modest and completely covered. What's a burkini, you ask? Think of a wetsuit with a hood, but made of very thin spandex material. There is  also a kind of skirt to it so it's not too form fitting. Looks terribly uncomfortable, hot and cumbersome.

You can imagine then the culture clash of a beach in Abu Dhabi where you have every nationality you can think of sharing the same area. Luckily, no one tries to go topless, but clearly there are still some misunderstandings as evidenced by the sign like the one below that was posted at the Abu Dhabi Corniche beach a while ago.

Now the question is, who's version of "appropriate swimsuits" do we assume?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Back in Phuket Paradise

Yep, we're on vacation again. Actually, it's been about 5 months, which is actually quite a long stretch for us. :)

We decided to return to Phuket, Thailand, which is where we took our last vacation. A very strange decision for us. We don't often return to a place twice and certainly not in a row like this. The decision was partly driven by our time share options - there aren't a whole lot of places on this side of the world that give us an equal trade for our time share week in Kauai in Hawaii. In addition, I think we were looking for something easy and really lazy. It's been a tough five months for me at work and desperate for a break doesn't begin to cover it.

So, here we are, eating good food, enjoying the sunshine, the pools, the beach and scheduling some scuba diving. We're staying at the same resort (Marriott) so we know how everything works and where everything is. It's actually a little strange and takes some of the adventure out of it, but we are finding it really easy and relaxing.

Today's agenda?
  • Coffee and breakfast at the local coffee shop
  • A little research on the 'Big Buddha' and car rentals - thinking about a day trip to some of the island sights we didn't see last time
  • An adventure out on the hobie cat sailboats that are available at the resort
  • A bit of laziness by the pool or on the beach and probably a drink (or two!)
  • Dinner
Not a bad plan.

Hmmm, the pool or the beach - let's hope that's our toughest decision to make today.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My First Earthquake

Some of you may have heard about the two recent earthquakes in Iran, which is not too far from us in Abu Dhabi. Close enough in fact that UAE felt both of them - no damage or injuries, thank God, but a healthier appreciation for shifting tectonic plates.

After the first one, which I didn't even notice, I got a text from Brian saying he was home because his building had been evacuated. Apparently the building started to shake and most thought it had something to do with the deep underground parking structure they were digging next door. The way construction projects are run here, no one would be too surprised if they miscalculated a dynamite blast!

Brian told me later that the building felt like it was swaying. He was quite happy to get out and head home instead - especially since he works on the 10th floor and we live on the ground floor. It was around 3:30-4:00 so not much of a day off, but hey ... At my work, we didn't feel or hear a thing - we're about 30 minutes from Brian toward Dubai.

A few days, maybe a week later, I got my own taste of earthquake. It was again around 4:00 in the afternoon and I and 3 others were working in our office. The first thing I noticed was a rumbling for lack of a better word. I actually didn't think anything of it at first - maybe something to do with the construction underway on the North side of our building? Then it happened again a bit stronger and I saw my monitor shake - okay, that felt weird. That's when some of the others in the office looked up and starting asking, "did you feel that?", I admitted something was going on.

We all kind of turned to the center of the room looking at each other and it happened again, like a huge giant was gently shaking the building. One of the empty chairs on the other side of the room starting shaking and bouncing and that's when someone suggested earthquake.

It stopped just that quick, maybe 30 seconds from start to finish, but now we weren't sure what to do. Under a desk? outside? ignore it and keep on working? It's funny, we're all very prepared for a fire - alarm testing every week and drills twice per year, but we hadn't ever considered what to do in an earthquake.

Against common wisdom (we found out later) we all went outside for about 15 minutes until the safety team told us we could go back inside and carry on.

And after some consultation with Google, we found out the following:
  • the earthquake happened near the border of Iran and Pakistan
  • it registered 7.8 on the Richter scale used in the US making it the most powerful earthquake for Iran in 50 years
  • more than 30 people were killed and dozens injured in Pakistan. Luckily it happened in a fairly remote area of the desert or the damage could have been much greater
  • the worst place to be during an earthquake is outside!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Too Handsome for Saudi

There are a lot of strange stories that come out of Saudi Arabia and this one I just had to share. Apparently, 3 Emirati men from Abu Dhabi were visiting Saudi for a festival of some kind and were deported.

Did they break the rules and show public displays of affection?   ...   no ...

Did they start some kind of protest against the government?   ... no ...

Did they steal, cheat or harm someone?   ... no ...

None of these, they were deported because they were considered too handsome! The religious police thought they were so handsome that women at the festival might fall for them. So, of course, the next logical step would be to deport them back to Abu Dhabi.

Are you kidding me?! I swear, just when I think I'm starting to understand ...

TIME News Article

Anyone else have that song in their head? "I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt ... "

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pulp Fashion

This is waaayyy old, but has been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year and since news is slow these days, I thought it was high time to post it. The photos below are from an exhibition called Pulp Fashion that came to Abu Dhabi ages ago. It was an interesting talk by artist Isabelle de Borchgrave from Belgium who started as a painter and moved into textile and costumes.  All of the creations below are actually made of paper (yes, even those shoes!). Here are the costumes she brought to Abu Dhabi and the link at the bottom talks about an exhibit in San Francisco.

San Fran Exhibit article and photos

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Juggling Family Tradition and Business Expectations

In my current role, I have the opportunity to talk with Emiratis about more than where I'm from and the fact that it's cold and snowy there and hot and sticky here. It's a fascinating culture and one I'll never fully understand simply because it's so completely different. One thing that has really struck me is the way UAE Nationals have to juggle work and family.

To understand, we need to go back 40-60 years ago when everyone in what is now known as UAE was either a camel farmer, a bedouin nomad or a pearl diver. Yes, a few were merchants, but a very few. If you think about this timeline that means that many/most Emirati graduates joining the workforce are the first in their family to have a university education and the first to tackle the completely different lifestyle of a 9-5 office job.

Family is incredibly important in the Emirati culture and there is a strongly respected and revered hierarchy. If an older family member tells you to do something, you do it and you don't dare argue or refuse. And, you are most likely living in the same compound or the same house. So imagine a new grad now entering the workforce and Mom says, "Ahmed, you need to take your sister to the doctor tomorrow at 10am". Ahmed doesn't have the luxury of telling Mom that's he's got to work - he is expected to take his sister to the doctor as requested. No argument and no negotiation. On the other side, Ahmed's manager is expecting him to report to work. No argument and no negotiation. It's a tough position for many of them.

In the development program I manage, we book the participants' vacation periods to coincide with the program. It's  communicated well in advance (from their first week on the job) and we rarely change those dates so that families can work around them. Even so, I have a few meetings a month with grads who want to change their leave dates. Usually because mom wants to go abroad and has selected the date based on her preference. When I try to suggest that the grad explain their work schedule, I am usually met with pleading eyes to make an exception. Mom ranks a whole lot higher than I do!

Another interesting challenge is with marriage. As you are probably aware, many marriages are arranged in this culture and there are still very traditional processes and values associated with the decision. In some families, the daughter or son can accept or decline the choice and in others it is expected that they do what the family has arranged. This goes for the girls and the guys as the marriages are often arranged by the parents. As a result, I've had individuals (mostly girls) need to resign because either their new husband lives in another town (or abroad) or the husband's family doesn't want her to work. Imagine investing your time to go to university, land a good job and begin a 21 month development program and then have to suddenly walk away. When I look at it through my American lens, I feel frustrated by this and a little sad, but then have to remember that this is the expectation and norm here. In fact, many girls are thrilled because it means they get to start their family and move on to their most important role; mother. I think sometimes I must seem like such a strange creature to them.  To have moved so far from my family and chosen not to have children. I'll bet they feel frustrated and a little sad for me.

Makes ya think.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Inside the Burj Al Arab

I was looking through some photos and ran across a few from our brief visit to the Burj Al Arab last year. And, since there's not much happening here right now, I thought I'd share.

We went there because I had a Groupon for a haircut and color at the salon. For those who don't know, the Burj Al Arab is a 7 star hotel in Dubai and one of the iconic buildings of the area.

You can only get inside if you have reservations for the salon, one of the restaurants, or are a hotel guest. We took advantage of my scheduled appointment to arrive early and have a look around.

This is one of the little salons where you can have a coffee. The interior is done is bright primary colors. Not quite what I was expecting, but very classy.

Outside one of the restaurants. You can't get a sense of the scale from the photo, but this coffee urn is the size of the doorway.

The lobby at the entrance. You can get a sense of the color scheme and the circular theme of the decor.

Dancing fountain at the top of the staircase that's shown in the next photo.

A cool view from the stop of the stairs and looking down the dancing fountain. Straight across you can see one of the coffee shops.

And that's about all we saw. We're thinking that some day we'll have to make reservations for tea and indulge in the ultimate experience.